Cleveland Nursing Graduate Programs and Nursing Graduate Degrees

Graduate Nursing Programs are courses of study that could lead to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, Nursing Certificate, PhD, or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In Masters in Nursing (MSN) programs, the emphasis is generally on the preparation of registered nurses for advanced nursing practice roles such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator and nurse administrator, and for doctoral study. Doctor of Nursing (DNP) programs typically stress the translation of research into practice, leadership, and more advanced nursing practice. By contrast, PhD in Nursing programs often seek to develop nurse scientists and clinical scholars who might lead in expert clinical practice, teaching and research. Those not seeking a full degree, but hoping to expand their skillset, might enroll in a Graduate Nursing Certificate program.

Why Consider Graduate Nursing Programs?

Most graduate nursing programs aim to augment a nurse’s knowledge, boost professional development and refine clinical skills through a combination of clinical and classroom education. One of the goals is to help nurses learn to conduct research and grasp trends in healthcare, such as health policy and the role of technology. Then, they could apply concepts from nursing science into the care provided to individuals and communities. Another aim is to help nurses positively impact patient outcomes through clinical expertise and compassionate care.

Important Skills for people in Graduate Nursing Programs

Support Advanced Practice Nursing

Many students enroll in graduate nursing programs to prepare to pursue advanced practice roles. The entry-level education for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) is the masters degree, typically in the form of a MSN. However this might be in the process of shifting. In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) called for a change. They proposed that the current level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice move from the master’s degree to the doctorate-level by the year 2015. The AACN's position statement calls for APRN’s (Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Nurse-Midwives, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) and other nurses seeking leadership/organizational roles to be educated in DNP programs.i

Types of Nursing Graduate Degrees: MSN, PhD, DNP, and Nursing Certificates

When it comes to graduate nursing programs, there are many options that consider diverse education backgrounds and career goals. You could look for programs that are available by degree level (BSN-MSN, MSN, PhD, DNP, Certificates) and further narrow your choices by nursing specialty (e.g. Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Education). Or, if you do not yet have a bachelor of science in nursing, you might find Accelerated Nursing programs that could serve as a bridge to a nursing graduate degree.

Masters in Nursing (MSN) Programs

The AACN calls the masters degree in nursing “the educational core that allows advanced practice nurses to work as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists.”ii Most Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs include both coursework and clinical experience. While program lengths and time to completion varies, a full-time student might be able to complete their program in about two years. From there, graduates might be prepared to sit for national certification exam(s) in their chosen area of nursing. If this is your goal, you can check with a state’s board of nursing for more information.

MSN Degree Program Curriculum

Most MSN programs start out with a series of core courses. Concepts from nursing and information science could help nurses think critically, make ethical judgements and grasp the complexities of health care policy. Courses in research methods usually cover data analysis and statistics to help nurses promote health to communities and populations. Other courses could help students build practical skills such as communication. They might also help nurses learn to collaborate or resolve conflicts whether with colleagues or patients. Finally, students might take several support courses that could cover advanced health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology .

MSN Nursing Specialties

Upon completely core curriculum, students may go on to complete specialty-related coursework and clinical hours. These components are often designed not only to expand students' knowledge, but also help them prepare for related licensure exams.

Masters in Nursing programs provide key education for advanced practice nurses (APRN) to be eligible to pursue licensure as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse anesthetists.iii Therefore, MSN programs often offer areas of specialization to correspond to these roles. Beyond that, there are programs that offer an emphasis in nurse education, nurse informatics, nurse leadership and more. While some nursing graduate schools may offer a general Master of Science in Nursing program, most expect students to focus their studies on one of these areas.


APRNs often must first have a registered nursing (RN) license before they pursue the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. ii

Admission to MSN Programs

Admissions to Masters in Nursing programs vary a great deal. Traditional MSN programs are those that build upon the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Nursing grad schools with these MSN programs typically require candidates to have earned their BSN in a college accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. Applicants might also need to have a valid state RN license, GRE scores, letters of reference, essay and nursing experience.

Alternative Pathways to an MSN Degree

Students without a BSN degree may wish to consider bridge programs. These MSN programs may be offered in an accelerated format and allow students to "bridge" gaps in their knowledge. Typically bridge programs cover foundational coursework before moving into a MSN curriculum. This MSN-level coursework is often similar to that in the traditional path. Students may also be able to select an emphasis. It should be noted that students usually must successfully complete one segment before they move onto the next.

  • Entry-level MSN programs are designed for non-nurses. These students hold a bachelors degree in an area of study outside of nursing and seek to pursue a career as an RN.
  • RN to MSN Programs are designed for RNs with a non-nursing bachelors degree. While some may grant a BSN degree, others simply cover related content.
  • BSN to MSN Programs are basic programs for all RNs nurses that want to complete their MSN in an accelerated way. Most programs grant a BSN and MSN degree.

Every graduate nursing program is different and schools may use similar names not listed above. Therefore it's important to contact schools directly to learn more about requirements and which degrees might be granted.

Graduate Nursing Certificates

Graduate Nursing Certificates are courses of study that could add onto existing nursing skills. Often just a few courses and credits (e.g. 12 credits), a certificate program may help nurses gain clinical competency and apply evidence-based practices.

Admission criteria is largely dependent on the program. Sometimes, applicants are evaluated to see if there are any gaps they need to fill through prerequisite courses. Students could also need valid state RN licensure, a minimum GPA and experience in the area pursued. Of course, each school has its own requirements, so keep an eye out for one that addresses your goals and current education level.

  • Post-masters nursing certificates are often stand-alone credentials. These could be designed for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses who want to refine, or even switch, nursing specialties after they have earned their MSN degree. For instance, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner might want to diagnose and treat pediatric acute and chronic care conditions.
  • Post-bachelors nursing certificates are less common and typically taken alongside a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, since students could enter a DNP program with a BSN degree. This type of certificate could help nurses to add onto the type of care they provide. For example, a nurse in a DNP Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program might pursue an HIV Primary Care Certificate to explore diagnosis and care needs for this population.

Doctorate Nursing Programs

Doctoral programs in nursing fall into two principal types: research-focused (PhD in Nursing) and practice-focused (DNP Programs). These two types of programs differ in their goals and the skillsets of their graduates. They also represent alternate approaches to the highest level of education in nursing.

Within each type of program, there are various areas that could be used as anchor points for either research or clinical practice. This may allow students to further focus their studies and pursue specific career or academic interests.

In addition to these two primary doctorate nursing options, some nursing grad schools offer MSN tracks (e.g. nurse-midwife, family nurse practitioner and women’s health care nurse practitioner) with a companion Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. This may allow students to simultaneously earn their degrees, flowing from one program into the next.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs

The Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP degree, is a practice doctorate and terminal degree in nursing. The objective of a DNP program, per the AACN, is to “prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes, and translate research into practice.”iv

DNP programs are generally designed to equip graduates with competencies in eight areas that are outlined by the AACN. These range from health care policy advocacy to inter-professional collaboration and systems thinking. DNP nurses are also expected to have advanced skills in health assessment, pathophysiology and pharmacology. Aside from courses, students might need to complete a DNP project at the end of the program. This is intended to help nurses synthesize the coursework and demonstrate their increased knowledge in their practice areas. The type of project varies. For instance, it might be a practice portfolio with a focus on evidence-based practice, a pilot study, a program evaluation or other form of work.

Pathways to the DNP

There are two entry points to most DNP degree programs, and each nursing graduate school sets its own admissions requirements for these paths.

  • Post-BSN DNP Programs: For students who have earned their BSN, the BSN to DNP track could provide a path to a Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP) degree. Students may also earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree along the way.
  • Post-MSN DNP Programs: The MSN to DNP is designed for students who have completed a Master of Science in Nursing program. Most post-masters DNP programs support certified APRNs who aim to improve skills in leadership, clinical scholarship, evidence-based practice and clinical evaluation.

Other admission requirements could include an RN license in the state of residence, letters of reference, a CV,  a background check, essays and a possible interview. Since these are variable details, refer to individual schools for more information.

PhD in Nursing

The PhD in Nursing is a research doctorate and terminal scholarly degree in nursing. Essentially, PhD programs are designed to develop nurse scientists and scholars. With an emphasis that relies heavily on scientific content and research methodology, Phd in Nursing programs typically require students to produce an original research project. Also, students usually must complete and defend a dissertation or linked research papers. Admission to some PhD Nursing programs could require a master’s degree in nursing from an accredited university, a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, and a current, unrestricted RN license to practice in the United States.

Campus or Online Nursing Graduate Programs?

Today’s student could choose to pursue their graduate nursing degree on campus or online. Typically online graduate nursing programs address some of the needs of busy, at-work nurses. Distance students might access courses on their own schedule while they maintain their other responsibilities. To balance out the independent study, some nursing schools offer optional residency programs where students might collaborate with classroom peers and faculty. Other times, students could be required to head to campus for role play exercises or to be supervised while they practice clinical skills.

On the other hand, in campus programs, students might find it easier to work with a nurse mentor or feel part of a nursing community. There’s also the demonstration component. For some, there is nothing like sitting at a round-table, or watching your teacher show you, right then and there, how to use equipment or provide patient-centered care. As with any decision, you should reflect on how you learn best, what features you need to stay on track, and what you could afford. You might be surprised at what is available in any format you choose.

Accreditation for Graduate Nursing Programs

Whatever format you select, nursing graduate programs are often available at regionally or nationally accredited universities. Beyond that, there are two major organizations that offer nursing specific accreditation–the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which is affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

What does it mean to be an accredited nursing program? A nursing graduate program or school of nursing that is accredited has proven that their curriculum meets certain standards set by the accrediting body. These agencies also make sure there are support systems in place that could help students achieve their goals - things such as financial aid, library services, transfer credit and so on. Visit accrediting body websites to learn more.

Nursing Career Outlook

The BLS projects a 31 percent employment growth for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners to the year 2024. This high demand is due to multiple factors that include an aging baby-boom population and growing emphasis on preventive care. In terms of salaries for APRN roles, the median annual wage for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners was $107,460 in May 2016.iii

Compare Graduate Nursing Programs

With the broad scope of graduate nursing programs, you may want to narrow down your search. We make it easy for you to compare nursing graduate degrees. Here’s how: You could refine the list by degree level – MSN, DNP, Certificates, and/or nursing specialty. Further filter by program format (online, campus) or go straight to the menu and look for nursing graduate programs by location. Whatever you choose, a list of programs is generated. Find a few that fascinate you? Great! Take the next step and contact schools directly. We provide the on-page forms.

[i] | | [ii] | [iii]| |  [iv]

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences offers innovative, career-focused clinical and practice-based health science programs online and in the classroom
Find Schools